“I can’t live without…”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 22:1-18
Romans 8:31-39
Mark 1:12-15

Have you ever heard about “Two Wheels” and “Four Eyes?” They live in a retirement village on a lake, somewhere in the South. They describe themselves as two old coots, who still do the very best of everything. They eat; they sleep, and they fish. One is rather short and wears glasses that look like the lenses were made from the bottom of mason jars. The other, if he goes through the painful process of unfolding his bent, arthritic legs and getting up from his wheelchair, is tall. They are sort of related — two of their relatives are married to each other.

The important part of their story concerns how they met. Several years ago, Four Eyes began to have trouble with his vision. By the time the doctors were through with him and the trouble had settled down, he was wearing what he called the “ugliest glasses in the world.” With them he could see well enough to pass the eye examination for his driver’s test, but he knew that he shouldn’t drive. The thought sickened him. He spent weeks in a deep depression. He made matters worse for himself by walking through the kitchen several times a day, opening the door to the garage, and looking at the shiny Jeep station wagon he loved so much.

Early one morning, the spring sunshine began to flood the living room where he sat in silence. As the room got both brighter and warmer, a thought just naturally occurred to him — fishing! Without even thinking he rushed through the kitchen, opened the door, and looked past the Jeep at his fishing boat. Suddenly, the reality of the situation struck him and he sat down on the step and cried like a baby. In the midst of the sobbing he began to pray, “Oh, God, what am I going to do?” The sobbing continued far longer than his cantankerous and independent spirit would have ever let on to anyone. Then, he began to examine his question to God.

“What am I going to do?” He sat up and began to formulate a plan. He could live without that car. He couldn’t live without the church, but the church was only two blocks away. He couldn’t live without food, but it was about four blocks to a shopping center that had more things than an old man would ever want, let alone need. He could live without that boat . . . but he couldn’t or at least didn’t want to live without fishing.

The plan was simple; he would give the car and the boat to his son. After all, Tom and Marie and the grandkids lived right across town. He and Tom often went fishing together. Surely Tom would not take his boat out and go fishing without taking him along.

The plan worked like a charm. That spring, he and Tom went fishing more often than they had in years. Then, early in the summer, disaster struck. Tom’s employer opened a new office, ten hours away, and Tom was being transferred. Old Four Eyes started wondering what would become of his Jeep and boat now. The answer didn’t dawn on him until Tom and Marie stopped by on the day they moved. Tom was driving a rental truck with their car in tow. Marie was driving the Jeep, loaded to the gills, with the boat right behind. Four Eyes didn’t own a Jeep or a boat — he had given them away.

Tom and Marie had invited him to move down and live with them. They repeated the invitation that last day, but all three of them knew it was only a polite formality. It would never work. Four Eyes was as independent cuss who loved his grandchildren more than anyone in the entire universe could love them — for about three hours at a time.

They weren’t even gone a week, but the old man’s depression seemed to have lasted an eternity. Then a letter came: “Dear Dad, I sold the jeep — we have no need for a four wheeler down here.” Depression turned to anger, he threw the letter violently, but it simply floated to the floor. He yanked it up, crumpled it and this time succeeded in bouncing it off the wall. Then he kicked it and started calling his son names that won’t be repeated here. After about ten minutes, his rage eased and he uncrumpled the letter to read on: “I used the money to buy a covered slip on the lake where Marie’s uncle lives. He can get into the boat from his wheelchair on dry ground. Then a winch lowers the boat into the water and he’s on his way. He loves it! Marie says she doesn’t think he has had one happy day since her aunt died two years ago, until now.”

The rage returned. Four Eyes crumpled the letter again and yelled at the top of his lungs: “That ungrateful … now he’s given my boat to some old …” He threw the letter into the toilet. It took three flushes, but he finally got satisfaction.

Three days later, Tom knocked on the front door. When it opened, he smiled and asked, “Are you ready to go?” Four Eyes snarled, “Go where, you ingrate?” Tom said, “What’s wrong? Didn’t you get my letter? I want you to come down for the weekend. There’s an open apartment where Two Wheels lives, and they said you could stay there for a few days. C’mon, Dad, it’s the biggest and best bass lake in the state!” The old man grumbled, “What’s a ‘Two Wheels’?”

You can guess the rest of the story. When was the last time you felt like the whole world hated you, forgot you, or didn’t care one way or the other? Evidently St. Paul felt that way more than once. I don’t think he could have written some of his marvelous and sensitive words without having lived through the situations he describes. Like old Four Eyes, Paul had come to grips with the issues of, “What can I live without?”

Fortunately (some would think unfortunately), most of us have not faced that question on any ultimate level. A few people have never confronted any loss beyond giving up doughnuts, or something similar, for Lent. Lent calls on us to give up some things that are more elemental — seemingly essential. Near the top of the list, we find our love of sinning. Just above that we find our love of selfishness. At the very top we find our unbearable, but seemingly immovable, love of self-righteousness.

During Lent, we sometimes sing the hymn, “Just As I Am, Without One Plea.” Occasionally, I think of those people who sing the song but actually mean, “Just as I am, please let me be!” In all honesty, they are satisfied with themselves and do not want God to go messing around changing things. Others sing the words but in the deepest recesses of their minds believe that God has good reason for accepting them because they are obviously better than most. Some would even go a step farther. It’s the religious thing to sing “Just As I Am,” but if anyone is interested, they are willing to point at themselves and say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” I know people think those thoughts; so do you. We know because sometimes we do.

Everything worked out just fine for Four Eyes, but in his flushing frenzy he missed out on something wonderful. At the bottom of the letter were these words: “Dad, I really miss you. I want you to be down here with me. I love you!” As worthy as the struggle with our own “giving up” may be, the real message of Lent has to do with what God willingly gave up. When Jesus was hung so cruelly on that hill outside Jerusalem, do you suppose that the Father said, “Son, I really miss you. I want you to be up here with me. I love you!”?

Well, I’m sure He did, but that is not the message of Lent, nor is it the message of the cross. You see, when Jesus was hanging there, God was indeed saying all those things to me — just as I am — and to you. You and I are the daughters and sons who are missed, wanted and loved so much that no loss is too great and no price is too high to pay.

That is the message of Lent. It is also the heart of the mission message. It is the Good News about Jesus that enabled Paul to write: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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